Cactus to clouds

The hike up the cactus to clouds trail out of Palm Springs to the top of the Palm Springs Tram was a total death hike this time.

I was carrying roughly the same weight (50lbs). I had maybe an additional 5 pounds compared to the November trip but this is a wholly different experience.
I found that since I’ve left work, my hydration levels have not been nearly as good and I could immediately tell. Sitting at a desk in front of a computer all day makes you want to drink tons of water. I’m not sure why. But I see the advantage of it now.

When I started right at sunrise, the temperature was approximately 50 deg. That was about 10 to 15 deg warmer than when I started last November. However, as I plowed up the mountain, I did not sweat nearly as much. And, I was going at about the same pace for the first 3000 feet. I was making approximately 1000 feet per mile. That was a pretty good pace considering the pack load I was carrying. But not nearly the sweat – a bad sign.

There were quite a few people who passed me on the way. All were carrying very light loads of water and snacks. Everyone looked like they were out for an easy day hike. The few that I spoke with said that they make the trip usually in five hours. I will have to try this with a light load and it might be a much easier experience.

Based on the snow that I saw in the last Tram cam WebCam capture, it looked like I was going to run into a lot more snow so I was geared up for the worst. Quite the contrary. There was essentially no snow at the top. I was expecting to have to slap on snow shoes to go marching around. I could’ve been in T-shirt and shorts and been just fine.

There was sheet snow and ice in the final traverse before you run up the avalanche chutes at the top, but if you stayed on the trail it was not so bad at all.

In fact I had gone up the wrong chute initially, just looking around, and I ended up getting crammed in a very ugly spot. The retreat was not very easy, so I headed towards where I needed to be. That actually ended up making things even worse.

So I ended up toe kicking down several hundred feet of sheet ice and snow to get back on the trail. I should have referred to my GPS a little more frequently. In that area, I tend always be there in the dark, so it looked like something totally different. At several points, I was just about to put the crampons on, but then I would have to immediately take them off in the hundred yards of dirt afterward. Really, it was quite challenging in that respect.

It was very nice to get to the top just at sunset. It was much better than running into a blasting snowstorm like last November. And I had the pleasure of hiking with a family from Boise, Idaho that was up here to overnight camp. Although for an overnight campout, they look like they were carrying enough gear for a combat session for an entire week into bad weather. I’m not sure what they were prepared for but they were certainly prepared.

We leapfrog several times, and I finally shared some info about the traverse and told them what to expect. They were very nice and appreciated the info. It’s a good thing they didn’t follow me up at one chute – that would not have been good. They ended up finding their way just fine. We ran into each other again at the tram station, chitchatted a bit, and they were off to dinner. They invited me to join which was very nice, but I still had a long walk ahead of me.

This time I did not try very hard to bum a ride and I did not end up getting a taxi. In retrospect, I should’ve tried much more or just figured out how to call for taxi. The 2.5 half hour march back into Palm Springs to the Palm Springs Art Museum was really not pleasant.

Ultimately this hike is a very good gauge to see where I am relative to training, hydration, and general fitness level. It is a very difficult hike and not recommended for someone who’s not in shape. Also, you need to leave quite early, as the temperature in the desert rises very quickly and you essentially need to out run the heat as you head up the mountain. Case in point, I am still sore at three days later.

But for those who are in shape and ready for an extremely strenuous hike, it is one of the best vertical ascents I have ever found.

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